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Late-night TV shows plan their returns after Hollywood writers strike ends

Published:Thursday | September 28, 2023 | 12:09 AM
Actor Jack Black looks for a picket sign as he joins demonstrators outside the Paramount Pictures Studio in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
Actor Jack Black looks for a picket sign as he joins demonstrators outside the Paramount Pictures Studio in Los Angeles on Tuesday.


TV’s late-night hosts planned to return to their evening sketches and monologues by next week, reinstating the flow of topical humour silenced for five months by the newly ended Hollywood’s writers strike.

Bill Maher led the charge back to work by announcing early Wednesday that his HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher would be back on the air Friday. By mid-morning, the hosts of NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Late Night with Seth Meyers, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, and The Late Show With Stephen Colbert on CBS had announced they’d also return, all by Monday. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver was slated to return to the air Sunday.

Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, which had been using guest hosts when the strike hit, announced Wednesday that it would return October 16 “with an all-star roster of guest hosts for the remainder of 2023”. The plans for Saturday Night Live were not immediately clear.

The strikes have had a “catastrophic” impact on late-night television viewing, according to the research firm Samba TV. Without Colbert, Fallon and Kimmel proving fresh, topical material, the broadcast networks have seen late-night viewership declines of between 40 per cent and 50 per cent, Ashwin Navin, Samba TV co-founder. “It remains to be seen how late night will rebound to its previous relevance,” he said.

Fallon, Meyers, Kimmel, Colbert and Oliver spent the latter part of the strike teaming up for a popular podcast called Strike Force Five – named after their personal text chain and with all proceeds benefiting their out-of-work writers. On Instagram on Wednesday, they announced “their mission complete”.

Scripted shows will take longer to return, with actors still on strike and no negotiations yet on the horizon.

On Tuesday night, board members from the writers union approved a contract agreement with studios, bringing the industry at least partly back from a historic halt in production that stretched nearly five months.

Maher had delayed returning to his talk show during the ongoing strike by writers and actors, a decision that followed similar pauses by The Drew Barrymore Show, The Talk and The Jennifer Hudson Show.

The three-year agreement with studios, producers and streaming services includes significant wins in the main areas writers had fought for – compensation, length of employment, size of staffs and control of artificial intelligence – matching or nearly equalling what they had sought at the outset of the strike.

The union had sought minimum increases in pay and future residual earnings from shows and will get a raise of between 3.5 per cent and 5 per cent in those areas – more than the studios had initially offered.

The guild also negotiated new residual payments based on the popularity of streaming shows, where writers will get bonuses for being a part of the most popular shows on Netflix, Max and other services, a proposal studios initially rejected. Many writers on picket lines had complained that they weren’t properly paid for helping create heavily watched properties.

On artificial intelligence, the writers got the regulation and control of the emerging technology they had sought. Under the contract, raw, AI-generated storylines will not be regarded as “literary material” – a term in their contracts for scripts and other story forms a screenwriter produces. This means they won’t be competing with computers for screen credits. Nor will AI-generated stories be considered “source” material, their contractual language for the novels, video games or other works that writers may adapt into scripts.

Writers have the right under the deal to use artificial intelligence in their process if the company they are working for agrees and other conditions are met. But companies cannot require a writer to use artificial intelligence.